PLATTSBURGH — The spike in overdoses seen over this and last year represents a pandemic within a pandemic, Rheannon Croy says.
From 2019 to 2020, the number of overdose reversal attempts reported to the Alliance for Positive Health's Plattsburgh office, where Croy works as assistant director of program services, more than quadrupled from 22 to 92, with two deaths in 2020.
To date, 91 attempts and two deaths have been reported to the organization this year. Prior to 2020, the numbers year over year had been trending down.
“We saw it almost going away and now it’s like COVID happened and people are isolated and depressed and it shows in the numbers," Croy told attendees of a Narcan training Tuesday night.
Croy, who is in recovery from opiate addiction, was one of several who spoke prior to a candlelight vigil held in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day at MHAB Life Skills Campus and All Ways to Recovery Community Center on Dormitory Drive in Plattsburgh Tuesday night.
Denis King, director of peer engagement and recovery services at Champlain Valley Family Center, highlighted how 93,000 people died from overdoses in the United States last year, an almost 30% increase over the previous year according to federal statistics.
Croy said she believes the trend can be reversed.
“I am one of those ridiculously hopeful, positive people and that’s because I lived in the dark long enough and now I just choose to find the sunlight.”
'PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY'
Among the speakers were Fran Cornell and Ed Kirby, who each lost a child to opioid overdoses. Both spoke about how they worked to give their sons good lives, the various activities they engaged in and how they still wonder where they went wrong.
Cornell, whose son, Steven Cornell Jr., died in July 2016, stressed that the disease of addiction does not discriminate.
She urged people to clean out their medicine cabinets and properly discard unneeded pills, and encouraged those fighting addiction to seek proper treatment.
“I am begging you, on Overdose Awareness Day, please don’t let your family ever get that same paralyzing phone call that taunts me every day and leave them with the only memories that I have, and that is the pictures hanging on my wall and one voicemail that I do listen to because I want to hear his voice.
"Remember, as parents and loved ones, the pain never goes away. We will carry this pain the rest of our lives.”
Kirby recalled how, on Valentine’s Day 2015, he and his son Kyle had a conversation during which Kyle shared how he wanted to get help.
“I told him my biggest fear was getting that call that he had overdosed or even died. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad, I got this.’ Well, he didn’t.”
Days later, Kyle was declared deceased in the hospital in Burlington following an overdose.
Kirby said concerned citizens, loved ones, elected officials, health care providers and law enforcement are making progress when it comes to addiction and overdoses, but still have a long way to go.
“I know I can’t help or save everyone, but if I can prevent just one family from living with the pain that I have to live with for the rest of my life, I would consider my involvement successful.”
'NOT GIVING UP'
State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones said he felt honored and special to be at the vigil, and stressed the importance of stopping the stigma of addiction.
“I know that a lot of you are remembering loved ones tonight and, you know, that’s what we’re here for. But we’re also here to help people with their loved ones and to help our community get through this and we can do it.
"I’m not giving up and neither should you.”
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest said the attendees and their stories inspired him.
“I love you, I appreciate you, and I am 100% available to you, to your friends, to your family for anything that you need, ever.”
MHAB Founder Michael Carpenter said the fight is not over.
"We are going to continue to do this. We will lead wherever we can to convince people that we don’t have to go to funerals and bury people anymore. We can stop this if we all bond together and do it.”
Email Cara Chapman: